HOW do you respond to lockdown when all of your activity revolves around uniting people in a physical space? That was the question that started forming in the mind of members of the Stove Network, an artists’ collective in Dumfries that aims to build community cohesion through creative endeavour.

For the network, which was involved in plans to bring the town’s run-down High Street back into community ownership, their cafe was the hub of their work.

But, worried that older people in the town would be putting themselves at risk by continuing to seek connection there, they decided to close before lockdown restrictions even came into place.

Martin O’Neill, programming director, explains: “In the very early days of the pandemic, in the midst of that collective fear, we started to try to think about how we could carry on our activities. Something new is emerging.”

Some of their programme could simply be put online. Last night the community watched Bruce Lee’s Outlaw at the same time.

They will continue an online version of the network’s Brave New Words strand, with people recording songs, poems and stories to share online at a live session.

But the team felt some deeper response was needed, a way of helping locals to respond creatively to a time of unimaginable historic significance.

O’Neill explains: “We looked at our values and came up with the three priorities – locally grown, locally sourced and locally owned – and came up with the Home Grown online platform that we’ve just launched.”

The website will be the new hub detailing creative challenges and commissions for the community. “We are launching activities to reflect the role of community art at this time of crisis,’’ says O’Neill.

The first creative challenge issued to the community and launched last week, with the community asked to make a “memory jar” to be shared as part of an interactive exhibition after restrictions are lifted.

Next week residents will be asked to make a film or sound recording of the River Nith while they are out exercising. The collective will create a collaborative film from the results.

“Art helps us make sense of the emotional weight of this,’’ says O’Neill. “It is therapeutic and helps us engage with our surroundings. In years to come we will have an archive that shows how the people of Dumfries responded.”

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